Judge rules against heir who wanted Met to return a Picasso

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), L’acteur (The Actor), 1904-05. Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public domain image in the United States

NEW YORK (AP) – A federal judge in New York has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to force the Metropolitan Museum of Art to return a Picasso painting to the heir of a Jewish businessman who allegedly sold it under duress.

Judge Loretta Preska ruled Wednesday that the museum can keep the 1904-05 painting, L’acteur or The Actor.

According to the lawsuit, businessman Paul Friedrich Leffmann and his wife, Alice, sold the painting for $13,200 to finance their flight to Switzerland in 1938. Court papers say that’s much less than the painting is worth. It was donated to the Met in 1952.

The judge said the Leffmanns’ great-grand-niece, Laurel Zuckerman, couldn’t show under New York law that the painting was sold under duress. Her lawyer says his client intends to appeal.

The Met called Preska’s decision “well-reasoned.”

Picasso painted The Actor when he was 23 years old. The painting is from the artist’s Rose Period, when he changed his painting style from the downbeat tones of his Blue Period to warmer and more romantic hues. Picasso painted The Actor on the reverse side of a landscape painting by another artist because he could not afford new canvases at the time.

The artwork was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by automobile heiress Thelma Chrysler Foy, daughter of Walter Chrysler, founder of the Chrysler automobile company. Experts estimate that the painting, which is one of the largest from Picasso’s Rose Period, is worth more than US$100 million.

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Auction Central News International contributed to this report.

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